The Wild Owyhee

May 26, 2016
OwyheeRiver

Photo by Bob Wick, BLM

Far in the southeastern corner of the state, beyond the dry mountain shadows of the Cascade Range, past high-desert plateaus and cow-spotted ranchland, on the desolate fringe of the great basin, lies the Owyhee. Oregon is known for its forests, but its greatest wilderness is actually a desert. One of the last truly untouched places left in the continental United States, the Owyhee Canyonlands stretch for more than 2 million acres. And yet, the Owyhee is still not a federally protected Wilderness Area.

Deep within the Owyhee, there are no roads. This is one of the last places to encounter openness. Walk for days among the cliffs and the bunchgrass valleys, with both horizons stretched before you. The richness of desert rock shifts to sagebrush steppe and upland plains. In a place so enormous, it’s easy to believe that this is the entire world. Wade through fields of lupine and balsamroot in the evening air, and see, perhaps, a herd of pronghorn antelope shift by, tinted orange in the first few moments of sunset. All is quieted by distance and by wind. The stars filter in, and you see what ancient skies once looked like. The Milky Way, at first a ghost, rises higher. The vibrant end of it is neither matte nor hollow, somehow reminiscent of a reflection on water.

OwyheeCanyon

Photo by Bob Wick, BLM

This is how the world once was. Before light pollution. Before cars. Before cell-phones. The Owyhee provides a diversity of wild ecosystems. There are chiseled red cliffs that look like they belong in the southwest. There are blue-green shrublands that serve as home for sage grouse. There are grassy hills, and steep river canyons, and sandy soils where rare wildflowers bloom.

Opportunities for outdoor recreation have made the Owyhee an increasingly popular destination for adventurers. Hiking, camping, backpacking; hunting, fishing, rafting. The Owyhee offers something for everyone, including daredevils like stand-up paddle boarder Paul Clark.

The Owyhee River is just as wild as the rest of the Canyonlands. River-carved canyons form high walls around swift waters—including a class VI rapid in the upper stretches of the river. Until Paul Clark completed his expedition on March 31st, no one had ever ventured down the entire Owyhee on a stand-up paddleboard. Imagine that—balancing on a small, inflatable board, hauling a few extra pounds of gear down one of the wildest rivers in the country. The journey spanned 150 miles and took nine days. Along with his paddling partner Torrey Piatt, Paul braved narrow canyon walls, unpredictable water levels, and rapids with names like ‘Tombstone’, ‘Ledge’, and ‘Shark’s Tooth’. The two emerged from the lower river tired, victorious, and forever changed.

OwyheeSunset

Photo by BLM

We’re lucky that there are still wild places fit for such adventures. But, although the Owyhee is wild, not all of it is designated Wilderness. The Owyhee is so large that it spreads over into Idaho. Our neighbor has declared their piece of the Owyhee as a Wilderness Area, which means that it will never be mined or developed, and it will forever retain its wild nature. The Oregon side of the Owyhee is currently vulnerable to ATV use, development, or other degrading uses of the land. The Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club, in partnership with the Wild Owyhee campaign, is working to achieve greater protections for the Oregon expanses of the Owyhee Canyonlands, whether through Wilderness?National Conservation Area or National Monument designation.  You can help by signing the petition or volunteering with the Oregon Sierra Club.

The Owyhee is a spectacular, rare place. It’s far from all things we might call civilization. A place of open skies, of desolate cliffs tall enough to catch the sun, of elk herds, and big-horn sheep, and swallows, and eagles, of larkspur, and penstemons, wild rivers, and snow-cold waterfalls. Far off, on the other side of the mountains, beyond the ponderosa pine forests, in the southeastern corner of the state, you expect to find nothing at all, but you find just the opposite—everything.


Hood River County Votes Against Nestlé!

May 21, 2016

 

KeepNestleOutOfTheGorgeCoalition

The Keep Nestlé Out of the Gorge Coalition celebrates the passage of Ballot Measure 14-55

by Francesca Varela

On Tuesday, the people of Hood River County voted to block Nestlé from building a water-bottling plant near the city of Cascade Locks. Ballot Measure 14-55—a countywide ban on commercial bottled-water facilities—passed easily, and has set an important precedent, not only for Oregon, but for the rest of the country.

Massive corporations like Nestlé are not invulnerable; they can be challenged by citizens, by people. Environmental groups like the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club, Food and Water Watch, and BARK joined with the Alliance for Democracy, AFSCME, and several others to create the Keep Nestlé Out of the Gorge Coalition, which has led the effort against Nestlé. It’s been a long fight, one spanning almost eight years, but well worth the effort.

Nestlé’s plan was to bottle 100 million gallons annually from state-owned Oxbow Springs. A public resource turned into a commodity; fresh, wild spring water entrapped on grocery store shelves, branded as Arrowhead and Pure Life, and sold at a steep profit. Shipping trucks would have rumbled continuously through the Gorge, carrying away the water that once wove through its hills. In a time of increasing droughts, this just didn’t seem right. Why should we have our own water sold back to us?

Climate change is making droughts more common throughout the Pacific Northwest, and, ironically, the bottled water industry is contributing to the situation; just think of the shipping, the energy intensive factories, and the bottles themselves, which are made of petroleum-based plastic. These bottles, once empty, usually end up in our oceans, or our rivers, until they’re eaten by aquatic life and leach plastic chemicals into all layers of the food web, or lie tangled in a mass of floating garbage for millennia.

Farmers, orchardists, fishermen, and Native peoples from varied backgrounds supported the measure, citing their worries about water depletion and the chance that, if Nestlé’s plant was built, other companies might follow their lead, bottling up the cold, clean water needed for agriculture, salmon, and life in Hood River County.

With their supposed omnipotence, multi-national corporations like Nestlé are difficult foes to face, but, as we’ve seen, they’re far from unbeatable. Rather than Oregon being the first state to transfer state-owned water rights to a private entity, we’re the first to house a county ban on water bottling. This is thanks in part to the efforts of Sierra Club members Joy Keen and Nancy Hatch, and their work with the Keep Nestlé Out of the Gorge Coalition. They kept Nestlé at bay long enough that, despite spending $105,000 to defeat the measure, citizen voices have still been heard, saying that water is life— and our lives are not for sale.


Join us in Salem on May 23 to speak out for the Owyhee!

May 18, 2016

The Owyhee needs you NOW.

South Fork Owyhee (photo credit: Chad Case)

South Fork Owyhee (photo credit: Chad Case)

Will you join us in Salem on Monday, May 23, to ensure our Oregon lawmakers know Oregonians want the Owyhee Canyonlands protected?

The House Rural Communities, Land Use, and Water Committee will meet to discuss permanent protection for the Owyhee. A group opposing protection will be there in force, so it’s critical that supporters like you show our leaders how much you care about protecting the Owyhee.

We’ll meet at Oregon Capitol Building’s main entrance (900 Court St NE, Salem, OR 97301) at 8 a.m. on Monday, May 23. See map.

Schedule
8 a.m. Arrive at Capitol
8:30 a.m. Committee session starts
Noon: Owyhee Rally!
1:30 p.m. Grab a slice of pizza and head for the bus or your car to travel home!

Getting There
Drive yourself: Arrive at Capitol Building’s main entrance (900 Court St NE, Salem, OR 97301) at 8 a.m. Get parking information here.

Get on the bus: We’ll have coffee and pastries for early risers!

 

  • Bend Bus: Departs Oregon Natural Desert Association’s office (50 SW Bond St. Ste #4, Bend, OR 97702) at 5 a.m. Monday. Returns by 4:30 p.m.

 

What to bring
Please wear bright blue to show you’re an Oregonian who is #WildForTheOwyhee! We’ll have buttons and posters for everyone. Birder? Kayaker? Backpacker? Bring the gear you love to use in the Owyhee. And bring family and friends!

RSVP!
Let us know you can make it AND if you’ll be hopping on the Portland or Bend bus. RSVP here by noon on May 20.

Thank you for being a strong voice for the wildlife, lands and waters of the Owyhee. Together, we’ll ensure this Oregon treasure is protected, forever!

P.S. Can’t make it? Please send an email telling the House Committee that you love the Owyhee and want to see it protected, now! Send your note to hrcluw.exhibits@state.or.us


Homesteader: 1890 – 2016

April 20, 2016

Northwest Oregon’s state-owned forests are comprised of less than .01% old growth, a stunning number that indicates their fraught history of devastating fires and aggressive logging. A notable patch of the Clatsop State Forest contains a timber sale known as “Homesteader.” One part of this sale (Area 2) especially, contained a stand trees upwards of 125 years old that had survived massive fires and over a century of logging. This parcel had numerous old growth characteristics and showed signs of providing rare habitat for threatened species, including marbled murrelets, red tree voles, and northern spotted owls. The area also contained “survey and manage” species that, on National Forest land, would have required that no logging occur in the entire stand of old growth. Unfortunately, such protections do not apply to state forest lands. Its location on the bank of the Nehalem River also makes Area 2 important to aquatic species. And, for about two years, activists, surveyors, and researchers exploring the area enjoyed its accessibility, tranquility, and abundance of biodiversity.

Beginning in April of 2015, thousands of Oregonians submitted public comments to the Oregon Department of Forestry [ODF] asking that this parcel of old growth not be logged. Official public comments were supplemented by letters, media pieces, and general outcry from Oregonians (especially Clatsop County residents). The voices were varied but the message was clear: “old growth is rare, it is critical, it should not be logged.”

ODF responded to this message rapidly. On state forests, timber sales commonly take 1-3 years between the announcement of the sale in an Annual Operations Plan and commencement of logging. In the case of Homesteader, perhaps because of intense public scrutiny and dissent, logging occurred less than 10 months after being announced. The trees were auctioned off in January and as of March, what used to be a lush forest is now something altogether different:

Cut - Tryg

Photo by Trygve Steen

Part of the blame for this expedited degradation of public land can be placed on ODF. However, the Agency is in a bind. They are expected to manage these state forests for a suite of values—social, environmental, and economic—yet they are only funded by logging. Moreover, 2/3 of state forest revenue goes to counties while 1/3 is retained by ODF. In 2015, state forest logging contributed $55 million to counties across Oregon. And yet, some counties are engaging in a disruptive lawsuit claiming that state forests are not producing enough timber! Meanwhile, ODF’s budget, like other natural resource agencies, continues to dwindle.

Oregon has changed and is changing. Logging is no longer a primary economic driver. While logging will remain a part of our history, culture, and (to an extent) our economy, Oregon’s present and future is built around outdoor recreation, fisheries, tourism, quality of life, and natural beauty. Yet private and public forest management has so far failed to keep up with the will of the people. Part of catching up is a balanced management plan for our coastal state forests, a plan that protects critical areas like Homesteader.

Photo by Trygve Steen

Photo by Trygve Steen


Earth Day: Past and Present

April 19, 2016

In recent years, Earth Day has come to be associated with buying green. Earth Day is coming up; buy compostable bamboo plates for your next picnic. Earth Day is coming up; offset your airline miles by donating to rain-forest preservation. Earth Day is coming up; buy yourself a pair of athletic pants made from recycled plastic bottles.

While mindful purchases do make a difference, the greater meaning of Earth Day is often drowned in a puddle of consumerism. Shouldn’t Earth Day be about activism? When it first began, Earth Day was a revolution, one intended to question our values. It wasn’t about buying things; it was about demanding change.

Proxy Falls Three Sisters Wilderness, Oregon, USA

Proxy Falls
Three Sisters Wilderness,
Oregon, USA

It’s been 46 years since the first Earth Day. April 22nd, 1970 was a day of nationwide rallies, protests, demonstrations, and environmental activism. College students, environmental organizations—including the Sierra Club—and political groups joined together to build awareness around the many environmental ills they had witnessed; pollution, sewage dumping, toxic waste, oil spills, and declining wilderness.

The man behind Earth Day was Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson. The 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California inspired him to host a national teach-in on the environment—which ended up becoming the extensive mass of activism known as Earth Day. He recruited Congressman Pete McCloskey and Harvard graduate student Denis Hayes—an activist against the Vietnam War—and a staff of 85 people to help him plan events all over the country. Their work paid off; the public outcry of 20 million people and an influx of awareness led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act, which continue to uphold the environmental values of those original protestors.

As we all know, Earth Day didn’t stop there. It became an annual event, serving as a celebration of the Earth’s beauty, a kindling of hope for a greener future, as well as a tool for building movements and amassing support for the environment.

Rather than remaining an American holiday, Earth Day went on to become globally recognized. Thanks again to organization by Denis Hayes, 141 countries participated in Earthy Day 1990. Efforts were focused on promoting recycling and halting rainforest destruction. Restoration, tree planting, and community works caught on as new ways take action. Earth Day became a chance for different cultures to band together, and to unite over something we all care about—the well-being of our shared planet.

In the new millennium, much of the focus has been on climate change. Protestors have demanded swift action, a transition to

Getting kids outside is hugely important to public health.

clean energy, and an end to fossil fuel use. Both 2000 and 2010 were big years for Earth Day. The international approach was upheld and broadened to over 180 countries. Hayes has continued to organize awareness events worldwide, including a campaign to plant over 1 billion trees. With another milestone year coming up in 2020, more big events are in the works.

Earth Day 2016 may not be a milestone by number, but it will surely be remembered for years to come. On April 22nd, China and the U.S. will band together to sign the Paris Climate Agreement. By taking early initiative in signing the agreement, both countries hope to set a precedent for the remaining 55 countries who need to sign on. With climate change accelerating, this action is crucial. Public support, as well as a demand for further solutions to climate change, will play an integral part in developing a clean energy future.1384381_10151988737616213_1384143042826289730_n

The history of Earth Day is proof of its power—Earth Day allows us to grab the world’s attention. It gives us a stage on which to demand change. It should not be an opportunity to ease our guilt. It should not leave us saying, we ate locally today; we bought organic socks, so we’ve paid our penance for the year. We should be making environmentally friendly choices each and every day, with Earth Day serving as a magnifying glass and a microphone; it should be the spurring point of action, the rapids before the waterfall, the point of coalescence for all those who care. Earth Day is a powerful tool; let’s use it.

You can help put the activism back in Earth Day (and every day) by getting involved in your community or volunteering with local environmental groups, like the Oregon Chapter Sierra Club.


Stopping LNG Export through Oregon: Both Projects Collapse!

April 18, 2016

By Ted Gleichman

They seemed insurmountable at first: two massive methane export projects in under-employed Oregon, one on the south bank of the Lower Columbia, and the other grabbing a struggling industrial port on the southern Oregon Coast.  Each $7 billion-plus plan required hundreds of miles of new pipelines, feeding fracked gas from the Rockies and Western Canada into enormous new processing plants for liquefied natural gas (LNG) at minus-261° Fahrenheit, for “terrorist-magnet” tanker export, with mandatory Coast Guard protection, embargoing other shipping hundreds of days per year, to ship LNG to Asia.

LNG tanker

Long-term profits would be tens of billions, with thousands of construction jobs.  And natural gas was the bridge to the future, twice as good as good ol’ coal.  Developers rolled in with instantaneous political support.  Lonely enviros and community activists fighting LNG faced epic headwinds: quixotic struggles by definition.

What a difference a decade makes.  Suddenly this spring, our long-term opposition has blended with global market reversal on oil and gas pricing, scientific evolution on fossil fuel climate impact, and comprehensive evidence of irredeemable ecological destruction to put both projects on the edge of oblivion.  

On Friday, March 11, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) quietly published an unprecedented decision: the commissioners voted unanimously to deny licenses to the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline (PCGP) and the Jordan Cove Energy Project (JCEP).  In Oregon and nationally, almost all observers were shocked: FERC has been widely seen as just a rubber stamp.

If this decision holds, 232 miles of 36-inch explosive pipeline will not slice along a new perpetual clearcut as wide as an interstate highway, and the Port of Coos Bay will not be dominated by gargantuan towers built on a sand spit for LNG that Asia can now get more cheaply elsewhere.

And then, on Friday afternoon, April 15, an unnamed official for Oregon LNG (OLNG), requesting anonymity, telephoned the mayor and planning director of Warrenton, the small town on the Lower Columbia where OLNG planned to build their LNG export terminal on dredging spoils.  The OLNG staffer said their struggling parent company, Leucadia National Corp., would no longer fund their development, so they will withdraw their land use application and abandon terminal and pipeline permitting fights. Simultaneously, an OLNG lawyer emailed the state Department of Environmental Quality, withdrawing state permit requests, and copied the Oregon Attorney General.

If this decision extends to every aspect of OLNG, they will withdraw their pending Final Environmental Impact Statement with FERC, cancelling their planned 87-mile pipeline across Northern Oregon (and perhaps killing another 130 miles of new gas pipeline from Canada through Washington State) to feed a terminal on unstable soil.

Each project was planned, insanely, for the largest, most dangerous earthquake and tsunami zone in North America, the Cascadia subduction zone.  The Pacific Northwest is guaranteed to experience a Magnitude 8-9 seismic monstrosity; coastal elevations may change by some 30 feet in about eight minutes.  This last hit in 1700; it averages every 250 years; and has about a 1/3 chance of striking during the projected lifespan of these projects.

Together, OLNG and JCEP/PCGP planned to export more than two billion cubic feet of refined methane per day: about three times the Oregon daily use.  But now we know there is no fossil fuels solution to the fossil fuels crisis: fugitive methane is a much worse climate disrupter than carbon dioxide.

windmillsSo the jobs and climate arguments are now flipped.  Oregon needs a two-part sustainability program: resilience and renewables.  We must rebuild First-Responder, transportation, and community infrastructure for resilience against our earthquake, and we must convert our energy economy to decentralized and utility-scale smart-grid renewables, bolstered with conservation and efficiency.

The impending demise of the only two LNG export projects on the US West Coast is giving us a teachable moment to help heal our corner of the world, for the better: maybe forever.

————

Ted Gleichman is former chair of and current policy advisor for the Oregon Chapter Beyond Gas & Oil Team, and a member of the national strategy team for the National Sierra Club Stop Dirty Fuels Initiative.


Volunteer Spotlight: Dian Odell

March 25, 2016

SI Exif

Dian Odell has been volunteering with the Oregon Chapter Sierra Club since August 2014. She comes in twice a week to help out in the office. “Usually entry of donations and event attendance into Helen (the central Sierra Club database), preparing for mailings, research, procedure documentation. But also computer support, ‘cleaning’, optimizing, [and] upgrading,” Dian said.

When she saw a posting for the Sierra Club on a local volunteering website, she knew it would be a good fit for her. “I certainly support the work of the Sierra Club, and the work they wanted done was certainly within my skill set,” Dian said.

As a retiree, Dian enjoys having a schedule and a routine, and maintaining structure in her days. “My objectives are to be useful, learn new things, and work with nice people,” Dian said. “I certainly have all those working with Hilary and the others at the Ankeny office.”

Dian grew up in Oregon, attending primary school in La Grande. “[It was a] small town, in the 1950’s—idyllic for kids,” Dian said. In middle school she moved to Portland and, aside from four years of college in California, and two years of the Peace Corps in South Korea, she’s been a Portlander ever since.

Dian keeps active in her daily life; she takes swimming and yoga classes; she’s an usher for Portland’5 and Portland Center Stage; and she spends ample time with her friends and grandchildren. These days she said she does “more ‘walking’ instead of ‘hiking’”, but she still loves being outdoors. She enjoys traveling to Central Oregon “for the different weather and smells there”, to the mountains for downhill skiing, and to the Columbia and Willamette for water skiing and sailing.

Each week Dian spends 10-12 hours donating her time and talents to the Sierra Club. Volunteers like her breathe life into the Sierra Club and make our accomplishments possible. Thank you for your dedication to the environment, Dian!

 

 

 

 

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,480 other followers